History Buff Story Starters


With its location in the center of the country, it's no wonder that Kansas played a key role in so many historical events. This summer, why not get out there? From the Civil War to the Old West, from Native American history to the Pony Express, visitors will enjoy museums, re-enactments, guided tours and historic celebrations across the state. The National Park Service's designation of the Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area recognizes the 41 counties along the Kansas-Missouri border as the epicenter of events that led to the Civil War. This is just one more example of the key role Kansas has played in shaping America's history.


The Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site tells the story of the ordinary people, including teachers, secretaries, welders, ministers and students, who agreed to be plaintiffs in a case that would ultimately change American history. Through interactive exhibits and audiovisual media, visitors learn about the significance of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision to ban segregation in American public schools, as well as its larger context within the struggle for Civil Rights.


Northwestern Kansas is the location of Nicodemus, the only remaining town west of the Mississippi established by African-Americans after the Civil War. Having an important role in American history, the town symbolizes the pioneering spirit of ex-slaves who fled the war-torn South in search of freedom and a chance to restart their lives on their own terms. This now unincorporated township has since gained recognition as a National Historic Site. A visitor center is located in the Township Hall, where park rangers, orientation videos, interpretative displays and book sales inform the visitor experience.


The Kansas African American Museum in Wichita works to make the African-American experience relevant and resonant to every Kansan, with such special exhibits as "Selma to Montgomery: The Long Walk to Freedom" and "Freedom Summer: An American Experience."
The museum also promotes awareness of the legacies of such notable African-American Kansas luminaries as Langston Hughes, Gordon Parks, Hattie McDaniel, George Washington Carver, Aaron Douglas, Gwendolyn Brooks, Charlie "Bird" Parker and more.


The Buffalo Soldier Monument honors the bravery, determination and courage of the African-American frontier soldiers who served in the 10th Cavalry. No tour of Fort Leavenworth would be complete without a visit to this breathtaking and majestic, 16-foot bronze sculpture perched atop a waterfall. The monument was dedicated in 1992 by General Colin L. Powell, who led the effort to ensure the Buffalo Soldiers were honored and would not be forgotten in American history. In dedicating the monument, Powell said, "The powerful purpose of this monument is to motivate us. To motivate us to keep struggling until all Americans have an equal seat at our national table, until all Americans enjoy every opportunity to excel, every chance to achieve their dream."


For a peek into the abolitionist movement, visit the John Brown Museum in Osawatomie (about 35 minutes west of U.S. Highway 69). This cabin, owned by Brown's half-sister, served as the ardent abolitionist's headquarters in Kansas and a stop along the Underground Railroad. It was near an abolitionist community and the center of conflict during the "Bleeding Kansas" years, when the Kansas Territory was embroiled in conflict over whether to enter the Union as a free state or a slave state.


With the wide-open skies as inspiration, Kansas is taking off with many top-rated aviation and aerospace attractions. Major aircraft companies such as Boeing, Cessna, Raytheon, and Bombardier Learjet, as well as new aircraft entrepreneurs, have made Kansas a leader in aviation manufacturing. Innovative aviation pioneers, designers, and pilots from Kansas are known throughout the world. This rich heritage has inspired numerous aviation-related attractions to open around the state, including the Mid-America Air Museum in Liberal, the country's fifth largest general aviation museum, the Combat Air Museum in Topeka, and the Cosmosphere International Science Education Center and Space Museum in Hutchinson, a prestigious affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution and one of the most comprehensive space museums in the world. These are just a few of the aviation attractions in Kansas.

Of course, Kansas started making aviation history as early as 1923 when Atchison born aviator Amelia Earhart became the 16th woman to be issued a pilot's license. She was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean in 1928, as well as the first person to fly over both the Atlantic and Pacific. In 1937, she mysteriously disappeared while trying to circumnavigate the globe from the equator. Visit Amelia's Birthplace Museum in Atchison.

In 1804, the Lewis & Clark Expedition set off to explore the length of the Missouri River. When Lewis and Clark spent two weeks traveling through what is now Kansas, little did they know what an impact they would have on future travelers following in their footsteps 200 years later. The expedition arrived in what is now Kansas on June 26, 1804, and camped three days near what is today Kansas City, Kan. The Frontier Army Museum at Fort Leavenworth features exhibits on the expedition. Near Atchison, the members of the expedition celebrated the first Fourth of July west of the Mississippi River. At White Cloud, the northernmost town in Kansas along the Missouri River, the Lewis & Clark Lookout offers a spectacular view of the four states of Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Iowa.

The "Old West" is alive and well in Kansas, and there are a variety of different western experiences throughout the state. The Boothill Museum in Dodge City immerses its visitors into a nostalgic Gunsmoke atmosphere, where fist fights and gunfire portray what you might have witnessed on the streets of Dodge City in the 1870s. In addition to the Boot Hill Museum offering over 60,000 objects, photographs, and documents, families will enjoy the Long Branch Saloon and a visit by Miss Kitty, as well as the Boothill Cemetery, where most people were buried with their boots on. A visit to the Old Cowtown Museum in Wichita provides a living history museum where you'll experience life in the 1870s complete with the sights, sounds and activities common to a Midwestern cattle town. And, real life cowboys still live in Kansas. Moore Ranch, located near Dodge City allows guests to come out and experience the Old West lifestyle. You can herd and drive cattle, learn to rope, learn to brand and relax by the campfire at the end of the day.